What Do You Do When You See Inappropriate Social Media Posts By High School Students?

unfocused screen shot It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of social media as a tool for learning. In order to stay on top of the various conversations that I like to follow, I have a number of lists that I have created. These various streams sometimes lead me to inappropriate posts by students. These instances concern me as to the amount of guidance that these students are being given in regards to the things that they post online and the possible ramifications.
As an educator, I feel it is the job of all of us to support students and ensure that they are fully aware of the implications of their online activities. Therefore, when I saw the tweet above from a local student-athlete, I decided to send the e-mail below to his Principal. I encourage others to take similar actions when they see this type of behavior. (I have removed the name of the student and the school because the truth of the matter is these things are happening at all of our schools). 

Dear Principal Name,I wanted to ask you to please have a conversation with Student Name about his use of Twitter. I stumbled across it while looking for some local high school basketball scores last night. While I do not think most student profanity on Twitter or other social media is a school issue, I have a concern for students who say things in this forum who may fail to understand the implications. As a former high school Principal and a current Assistant Superintendent, I am a big advocate of social media use and I continue to push for the constructive use of social media by all members of a school community.
My concern is that I do not want to see students lose out on opportunities due to comments they make on Twitter or anywhere else on social media. At one point when I was a high school Principal, I pulled all of my juniors and seniors into the auditorium and shared some of the comments that I had seen them using and talked about the ramifications with them in regards to the question on the top of the slide below. I worry that someone would make a judgement about the type of person one of our students is because of a single social media post. However, the fact of the matter is that this might be the only evidence of social interaction from that individual to which a school or employer has access and when there is a pile of other applicants it is easier to move to the next option.
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In addition, The New York Times article They Loved Your G.P.A. And Then They Saw Your Tweets highlighted the fact that some college admissions offices check the activity of students Just this week, USA Today had an article titled One Bad Tweet Can Be Costly To A Student Athlete. While I know most student-athletes aren’t concerned about scholarships, they should know that employers and college admissions offices actively check social media accounts of applicants and make decisions based on what they find.
I was going to tweet to Student Name directly, but I did not want to bring attention to this.  I have little doubt that he is a fine representation of a student-athlete at your school and I hope he will consider cleaning up his social media accounts. While I don’t condone the use of profanity and such, I remember being a high school student and the fact that many of these same conversations and comments were common in the locker room or hanging out with friends or teammates. My concern is that now many of our students are having these conversations online without a full awareness of how public they are.
Anyway, sorry for the long e-mail. I wish you the best during the remainder of the school year and trust that this will not be a disciplinary matter but just a “teachable moment.” Good luck to Student Name and the team for the rest of the year!


  1. John Hendron said:

    I think with an email in hand, some principals would take you up on your offer and talk to a student like this. “This isn’t my opinion, this is someone in the real world who you don’t know and saw what you wrote…” i have to think there has to be a rationale beyond “college admissions” officers to rationalize how we conduct ourselves online. We are giving a lot of power to these folks as the last checkpost in how we behave. What about the student who has no interest in going to college?

    The newest tools – like YikYak – that anonymize social commentary take away the threat of someone putting a name on online comments. What bothers me is that this veil gives our students permission to say anything, and some take us up on the offer with dishing out a lot of ugly. It makes me lose hope, at least over some of what I read, for our future. 10 years ago, I’d wager that we needed to open our parents’ eyes to this but that is falling short of really where we need to be.

    Whether we like these comments or not – they are a result of the human condition. We’ve been preaching that today’s students are different than those from the last generation or two before it. This is one way in which they’re different. They speak brashly at times, they command the far reaches of our vocabulary to be noticed, and they do not always pause to consider the power and responsibility the spoken word has on our peers and neighbors. It makes for a slightly more rough and tumble society, and that’s something we have a real say in the field of education, but I’m not sure the conversation starts or ends with us.

    It is not my area of expertise – but my gut tells me there’s likely something going on in a child’s life, like the one you highlight, not to mention the type of bullying I see students involved in, rampant at times in anonymous forums. In computer science, the long held adage of garbage in, garbage out applies here, too. If we aren’t doing our part (in school, and outside of school) of developing strong, positive, and supportive relationships with students, how can we be surprised that the response to their condition comes out in social spaces? Whether it is to be noticed, look cool or adult-ish, or really be a strong expression of doubt about their world, these kids are missing the message that being vulgar, unkind, and ugly is not what caring, empathetic people do to one another, face to face, or virtually with anonymity.

    You, taking your time to pen an email, I think was a novel way to provide that support you felt was needed, even from a distance. Bravo. But the rationale I think has to be bigger than admissions officers and future bosses. Because I fear the problem is the same one that fuels road rage, a fist fight in the park, or the false notion some have convinced themselves that hazing “is kinda okay.”

    As a last remark – I think school personnel should be using the same tools as students do to communicate – in our own need to communicate, share, and learn, we can be some of the best role models around. Again, you model this well through illustrating your own use of Twitter.

    Good post!

    January 11, 2015
  2. John,

    Thanks for the taking the time to make such a thoughtful response! I just wanted to take a few minutes to respond to a couple of your points.

    First, I agree wholeheartedly about there needing to a be a better reason for students to display positive behavior online other than college admissions. I am hopeful that students care what others think of them and the bigger point would be to help students to see that a random online post would sometimes lead to a false perception of them by others. However, sometimes kids need to see the worst-case scenario for something to hit home. Therefore, I think it is important to let them know that their actions could lead to the loss of a job or college acceptance.

    In regards to the human condition, I respectfully disagree with the drastic change for students today. But I do think that the advent of online environments has put a lot of the negativity that was always out there in our faces more frequently. I also think that we have the ability to share a lot of the positive things that are happening to try to balance the equation. In regards to students today, I don’t think they are any brasher. At least, that is not my experience from all of my personal interactions. The issue here is that the harsh statements that they make can end up being a much bigger deal due to the fact that they are making them online.

    Your last point is huge! School personnel need to model with the same tools that the students are using. In addition, we need to bring parents in and teach them how to use these tools as well to help everyone understand the positives (and the negatives).

    Thanks again for your response!

    January 12, 2015

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